Episode 2: A Custom Order

7.

"Thank you, gentlemen, just set it down over there by my TARDIS," the Doctor directed as four burly UNIT men slowly worked their way into the lab, a large metal contraption between them in a sling. "Carefully, now."

"What is it, Doctor?" Jo asked, abandoning the pile of test tubes that she was supposed to be sorting for washing to peer at it curiously.

"That," he said with a small flourish, "Is why I couldn't put your case in Bessie's boot when we were coming back from Chippenham."

"Chippenham? That was a month ago. What is it?"

"It's a compact generator for the force-field. Those things take a tremendous amount of power, you know."

"Do they?"

"Yes. It's impervious to electromagnetic disruption, very handy but a bit hard to just carry around in your pocket."

"So it's a…giant battery?"

"Well, essentially, you could say so. In a simplified way. I thought I had one or two of them stashed away in the TARDIS, it just took me a while to find it. I have a smaller force-field generator on her already of course, but this allowed me to magnify it's effect to a more useful range." He nodded to the men as they filed back out. "You didn't notice she was riding a bit low? I'll need to do something about those shocks. Inefficient."

Jo smiled. Frustrated at being unable to repair his TARDIS thus far, he often took out his tinkering angst on the roadster so she was forever undergoing little modifications. She wondered if given enough time and a large enough part of UNIT's budget he might make that roadster half into a time-machine itself.

"Doctor! Good, you're here. I want a word with you." Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart strode in carrying a clipboard in his hand. "Good morning, Miss Grant."

"Good morning," Jo replied politely, going back to her test tube sorting but keeping her ears open.

"What is it? I'm busy," the Doctor said. He was examining the end of a connector that hung off the field generator and briefly glanced up.

The Brigadier was unfazed. He extended the clipboard of papers at his scientific advisor. "You remember that Babcock chap?"

"The aide from the Custom Supply? Of course I do."

"Well, take a look. Seems once he got used to the idea that there might really be other lifeforms out there, he went looking for more. He may have turned something up."

"Let me see that," the Doctor took it from his hands and flipped through the papers. "Still in the general area of Chippenham, interesting. And still using the Custom Supply requisitions to gather items." He considered. "Has this contact name been checked out?"

"A pseudonym," the Brigadier nodded. "Two of the current officer's names put together for familiarity. Not creative but efficient."

"And all deliveries have been made to this base?" The Doctor leaned on the workbench and rubbed at his chin thoughtfully. "These orders…. This sort of thing could potentially be used for… Yes. Interesting. Very intriguing." He leafed through it again. "Just what… Or possibly… Hm."

"Possibly what?" asked the Brigadier impatiently.

"What? Oh, any number of things. Who can say? Not bombs, if that's what you're thinking. But… hm. I wondered when we might hear of something. The aliens we chased off from that old hall were information gatherers, after all. Mercenary spies, if you will. They had to leave without their living samples, but they'd still have had a valuable package to sell to whomever hired them to watch this area. It would include, for instance, how to defraud the British Defence Ministry for customized supplies."

"Valuable information."

"Yes, especially if their customers were not of humanoid appearance themselves. If they are unable to blend in with the population they would have a more difficult time finding ways of carrying out the commerce necessary for their basic needs or supplies."

"Well, stemming them should be fairly simple then. We simply notify the Supply to cease all shipments to this locale and stake out the base. Starve them out."

"It is to be assumed they've found a way to meet their physical needs," the Doctor noted dryly. "And we have no idea what those are."

"I spoke metaphorically."

"I thought that was my responsibility."

The Brigadier blinked and ploughed on. "Ah. Still, would it be likely that ending access to the supplies might bring them out of hiding, flush them into the open?"

"That partly depends on if they already have a sufficient supply for their purpose."

"And that purpose is…?"

"That's what we need to find out. Also, we don't know what the consequences will be of cutting them off at this point. They've had at least a month already. One thing is certain; it would tip them off that they've been discovered. Do you really want to so casually cancel out any element of surprise?"

The Brigadier tapped his swagger-stick thoughtfully. "True. A proper recon of the enemy should be carried out. But if they are, in fact, alien lifeforms…"

"Then that's more up my alley than yours."

"Oh I don't know. I think we're getting rather good at it."

The Doctor almost but not quite rolled his eyes. "Just give me some time before you send anyone in or notify the military. I don't want any strong-arming. Babcock didn't tell anyone else, did he?"

"No, not that we're aware of. Who else would take him seriously anyway?"

"Good. I'd like to drive down and take a look myself."

"Very well. But you aren't going in alone. I'll send an escort with you."

"I'm driving my own car."

"They can join you."

"I'll already have Jo with me," the Doctor said stubbornly. Jo perked up at this. Even if it was only to stave off the Brigadier, she was glad she didn't have to argue her way along. She really hadn't wanted to be left behind.

The Brigadier's face remained carefully neutral. "They'll follow in a jeep. Closely."

The Doctor jammed his hands in his jacket pockets with frustration. "Oh, as you like then." He thought about it a moment. "I'll have to start at that old hall in Chippenham. I think it may still hold some clues for us."

Lethbridge-Stewart gave a slight nod. "As you say."

--

Jo looked over at the Doctor as they drove. He kept intently looking in the mirror at the UNIT jeep that was following behind them and hadn't spoken much, but she could tell he was up to something. She wasn't entirely surprised when, just as they were almost outside of London, he suddenly gunned Bessie right through a changing signal. Forced to wait, the jeep was stopped at the intersection behind them. The road curved around a set of buildings and once they were out of sight, he spun the wheel and ducked them into an alleyway.

Now grinning like a little boy, he maneuvered around a parked lorry, cut through an underground parking garage and popped back out into the sunlight, where he promptly sidled up beside a lumbering double-decker tourist bus and continued along in its shadow for several blocks heading back into the city. Jo kept glancing around but there was no sign of the jeep.

"Track 1 to Track 2, we've lost visual sighting," the radio crackled. "Please report location."

The Doctor grinned at Jo, his eyebrows communicating something she couldn't understand except it was gleeful. He didn't reach for the radio and neither did she.

"Track 1 to Track 2, repeat: we've lost sight of you. Please report!"

They continued creeping along in the shadow of the bus, heading towards downtown.

"Greyhound," their radio crackled. "We've lost sight of him. No radio contact either."

"Greyhound here," came the Brigadier's voice. "Track 2, please confirm! Demmit, Doctor, I said you needed an escort!"

The Doctor just kept smiling. The radio continued spouting at them for some time with agitation until it was apparently decided the escort would continue on to the old hall in Chippenham and hope to find him there. The Brigadier sounded like he would be positively apoplectic…if he were not the Brigadier.

The Doctor turned to Jo. "Well, now that we're off the leash how about a little drive?"

"How little? Aren't we going to Chippenham?"

He smoothly negotiated a turn. "Of course not. I just set that out as a herring for our good friends from UNIT to tag after. I told the Brigadier I wanted some time to investigate first, and I'm quite determined to get it without their interference. We're going straight to Corsham, to the tunnels there."

"Tunnels?"

"Yes, there's an entire underground city there, didn't you know? It was limestone mines originally, started back in Roman times. Quite extensive. Turned into an underground network of tunnels during the Cold War. It has it's own lighting system, power and ventilation, everything, though it's since been essentially abandoned. The military base is over part of it, but only a part."

"Big enough to hide in?"

"It's over 120 acres, some sixty miles of tunnels. If our mysterious extra-terrestrial friends are to be found anywhere, odds are that's the place."

"Sixty miles?"

"Of tunnels, yes." They pulled away from the traffic as they moved out into the countryside. "Even has it's own spur of railway."

"It's all underground?" She couldn't quite believe something of that size was in England and she'd never heard of it.

"120 feet down, in fact," he said. "Your people build the most remarkable monuments to paranoia." They came over a rise and a long straight stretch of road alongside fields opened up before them. "Now hold on." She held on.

--

An unusually short period of time later, for the distance traveled, found the little yellow roadster obediently bumping down a sloping ramp into an old quarry.

"Here we are," he said cheerily. "I looked over an old map of the place before we left. There should be an entrance just over there and we'll still be within a reasonable distance of the subterranean area beneath that military centre."

"How far is a reasonable distance?" Jo asked, still thinking of sixty miles of tunnels.

He didn't answer, but started to get out then turned back to her. "Perhaps you should stay here. This could be dangerous. We have no idea if they're actively hostile or what manner of guard they've placed on those tunnels."

"And who'll run the message back if something goes wrong? I'm coming with you."

"I can't allow it, Jo."

"I'll follow you," she warned stubbornly. "You'll have to tie me to the car."

"Jo."

"The Brigadier said you weren't to go alone."

"Jo."

"And since you left the escort behind, all that leaves is me."

"But…" He gave in with a sigh of frustration and leavened it with a small smile. "Oh, all right. Come on. But you have to stay with me."

"Of course!"

"And if I say run, run!"

She rolled her eyes. "Right. Come on already. Are we going in or aren't we?" She climbed out and started toward the tunnel, making him have to scramble out of his side to be sure she didn't get ahead.